Attorney of the Month, Thomas W. Ting

In-House Practice with A Global View

 By Haley Freeman

“I feel like my family embodies the American dream,” said Thomas Ting, who immigrated with his family from Taiwan to the United States when he was a small child. His first language was Mandarin Chinese, and he learned to speak English when he attended kindergarten.

Ting’s parents were school teachers in Taiwan who overcame the language barrier to become restaurateurs in Richmond, Virginia. They worked tirelessly to provide Ting and his sister, also a school teacher, with every advantage as they grew to adulthood. “I think there is no better training than working in the kitchen of a busy restaurant,” Ting said. “You learn to multitask, you learn time and people management, and you can’t quit when you’re working for your parents.”

In addition to hard work, education was also a high priority in the Ting family. “My parents accepted nothing but perfection academically from my sister and me,” he said. “Everything I got to experience was my version of the American dream because I got to grow up playing sports, making friends and eventually went on to play four years of college football and to become the president of my fraternity – all very American experiences.”

Upon completing a double major in medical ethics and premedical studies at Davidson College, Ting found that he most enjoyed the analytical and writing aspects of his undergraduate studies. This realization led him to study law at the University of North Carolina Law School.

Ting began his legal career at the firm of Henson & Efron, P.A. in Minneapolis, where his ability to speak Mandarin and his understanding of Eastern culture quickly opened doors to singular opportunities. Ironically, he was initially known among his colleagues for his Southern accent. Then, when a client issue arose in China, Ting reminded them that he could speak Mandarin. Ting recalled, “The way they tell the story is, ‘Did I tell y’all I can speak Mandarin Chinese?’ I credit my parents with making it a priority to learn the language. Being bilingual opened up opportunities in private practice, but I really had the chance to leverage it once I got into my first role as in-house counsel.”

After four years in conventional practice, Ting joined a global holding company which owned a portfolio of operating businesses including Polaroid Corporation. “Once I got to experience the inhouse practice environment, I knew it was exactly what I wanted to do in my career. I was given the unique opportunity to build on both my domestic and international law practice as well as develop my in-house counsel strengths, including learning to be a colleague to non-lawyers and owning the results of the business. To be an effective lawyer in any environment, you also have to be an effective crisis manager and know how to methodically focus on what is in your control. I feel that my experience as both outside and inside counsel has made me a better lawyer and a greater asset to the companies I work for.”

Following his tenure at Polaroid, Ting accepted an offer to join MoneyGram International as their divisional counsel. “It was an interesting experience to transition to a publicly-held company where there were many owners instead of just one. I found that the decision-making process at a publicly-traded company could be more formal, but in terms of managing relationships, the demands were much the same.”

In 2013, Sun Country CEO John Fredericksen invited Ting to oversee the company’s legal department. Shortly after joining the company, Ting was asked to accompany its technicians to Shanghai to supervise the inspection of a plane it was purchasing. “I was still getting familiar with the aviation business. I was there as a show of goodwill and to facilitate relationships,” he said. “In addition to speaking the language, understanding the culture is paramount among the Chinese people. The culture values saving face for one another in a way that is probably not all that different from what our profession dictates – that you respect your peers and build rapport. It is also a very humble culture.”

Another early life experience that Ting often draws upon and applies in his legal career is his experience playing sports. His current team works closely with subject matter experts to provide support on the complex issues arising in the airline industry, so Ting fosters a good working relationship between his colleagues as well as outside resources. “I trust my colleagues to rise to the challenges and resolve issues as they arise,” he said. “A key mentor, my high school football coach, taught me to trust myself and my team – he constantly emphasized that we were built for all challenges. I expect success and I expect that we put ourselves in the best position possible to succeed and to effectively handle the unexpected.”

Today, his family remains the center of Ting’s life. He and his wife, Erin, recently welcomed a new baby boy. “I’m spending as much time with him as I can,” Ting said. “I want the world for him and I think that becoming a parent has made me less selfish. I feel a connection with my own parents that I didn’t have before. I’ve always been pretty confident that I understood the sacrifices they made so I could enjoy the things I did growing up, but until we had our child I couldn’t truly understand all that they were willing to do to put me ahead in life. My parents were my key mentors in life because of their courage, work ethic and their refusal to accept mediocrity.”

In addition to his practice, Ting has been involved with the China AIDS Orphan Fund. Ting currently serves on the board and was its president for three years. The fund’s mission has been to assist orphaned children in rural Western China whose parents sold blood to supplement their meager incomes in the 1990s. “The collection procedures were tainted and faulty so that entire villages were afflicted with HIV. This epidemic came to the attention of a physician in the United States who founded the charity to supplement the education of the orphaned children. This generation of children has now reached maturity, so the goals of the organization have nearly been met, as this group of young adults is hitting the workforce in China.”

Ting recently joined the board of directors of the Airport Foundation MSP. The focus of the group is to work with the Minneapolis Airport Commission to enhance the experience and expectations of travelers at MSP International Airport.

About his coworkers and colleagues at Sun Country, Ting offered, “It is important for people to know how hard the people at this company work and how resilient they are. The company has been through ownership changes, bankruptcy and the uncertain economy, and it has survived. This is a genuine and down-to-earth group of people who work hard to ensure a positive experience for the flying public. I’ve been so impressed by their loyalty and the real sense of pride they take in the final product.”

“I love everything about in-house practice – the practice of law, wearing multiple hats, strategic planning and my immersion in the day-to-day demands of business. I think my unique background brings versatility to my practice and allows me to be highly adaptive. Ultimately, the greatest compliment to me as an in-house lawyer is to be considered a business-minded lawyer and a colleague by my non-lawyer peers.”

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